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North Alabama legislators, educators, entrepreneurs discuss challenges at roundtable

Leaders at the roundtable discussed shared challenges and opportunities for collaboration across sectors.

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Lawmakers, rural community leaders, higher education leadership and entrepreneurs came together in Athens Thursday for a regional roundtable hosted by Innovate Alabama and Launch 2035.

The discussion focused on North Alabama’s current opportunities related to entrepreneurship, commercialization and cultivating an innovative, skilled workforce.

The roundtable fostered collaboration to address shared challenges including retaining talent to support workforce needs and enhancing the landscape of capital resources to rural entrepreneurs.

“Through this roundtable, Innovate Alabama’s goal is to connect local and state policymakers with leading entrepreneurs and higher education folks across North Alabama to learn about some of the obstacles these leaders are facing as they work to move this region forward,” said Rep. Anthony Daniels, Innovate Alabama board member. “As representative of District 53, I’m grateful to serve the North Alabama community and to work with regional partners, like Launch 2035 and Alabama A&M, who are at the forefront of growing an inclusive, prosperous economy in North Alabama.” 

Founded in 2014, Launch 2035 is a regional economic partnership that started with the objective to unify Limestone, Madison and Morgan counties to ensure regional economic growth over the next 20 years and met its potential through a focus on three strategic areas: land use, workforce and entrepreneurship. Today, the organization has expanded to include all of North Alabama through coordinated planning and collaborative efforts amongst local business and community leaders in each county.

One of Launch 2035’s main initiatives highlighted at the roundtable is the Singing River Trail, a 200-mile greenway system that leaders hope can strengthen regional bonds between 16 North Alabama cities while creating new health and wellness, educational, economic, tourism and entrepreneurial opportunities for these communities.

“The opportunities are endless when we bring together people from different corners of Alabama to develop innovative opportunities that enhance the economic landscape of our region,” said Rob Hamilton, Launch 2035 chair. “The Singing River Trail is a prime example of this. By working with leaders in both the public and private sector across multiple counties, we developed a product that would leverage our region’s outdoor recreation assets to increase our state’s economic footprint. We are excited about today’s conversation and those to follow. This is the beginning of a long partnership between our state and regional leaders as we continue tapping into North Alabama’s incredible potential.”

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With numerous colleges and universities spanning across North Alabama, the regional roundtable included discussion on post-graduate recruitment and retention challenges.

“For those of us engaged in higher education, we have noticed that many Alabama students seek opportunities outside the state after graduation with all of the knowledge and experience that they gained while in college here,” said Andrew Dollar, director of the Athens State LaunchBox. “We are grateful to connect with leaders in the business and government sectors who can serve as resources to our students and help us create more homebase opportunities for them.”  

Athens State University owns and operates the LaunchBox, a new collaborative and innovative hub in downtown Athens and the host of the roundtable.

Innovate Alabama will host additional roundtables across the state to continue encouraging collaboration among local leaders and learning about the challenges and opportunities in each region. The next roundtable will be on Thursday, Oct. 20, at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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